Book Review |The Midnight Watch: A Novel of the Titanic and the Californian

The Midnight Watch
The Midnight Watch

I thought The Midnight Watch: A Novel of the Titanic and the Californian by David Dyer, was going to be a history book but instead, it turned out to be historical fiction. While real people are used some of it is the authors best guess at what happened. I would assume he has also embellished.

Like many, I have always been fascinated by the sinking of the Titanic. When I learned that there was a boat that was very close to her but never came to her assistance, I had to read and find out what happened. This novel follows a fictional writer for a real newspaper. The newspaper that did follow and publish stories about the Titanic at the time. The fictional reporter is out after the truth and follows around Lord and Stone, the captain and first mate of the Californian, the boat that was just miles from the Titanic saw its distress rockets and choice to do nothing. Why???

The Titanic Inquiry: Crew of the SS Californian

That is exactly what Dyer tries to answer with this novel. A great way of approaching this question is with historical fiction. I’ve never really been a fan of this genre because I like the facts of things and this genre interweaves fact and fictional storytelling so closely, that is is hard to tell them apart and you can’t trust what you have read as truth, even if some of it is.

Having said this, I think for this book the genre works in Dyer’s favor. For those interested in the story behind the story, I think they will enjoy the book. For my part, I would have been just as happy with a non-fiction book that presented the facts and the author gave us his best guess as to what actually happened. I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review | From the Age of Discovery to a World at War

From the Age of Discovery to a World at War
From the Age of Discovery to a World at War

This is one of the few books from last year that I read as a hardcover book. From the Age of Discovery to a World at War by William J. Bennett was sent to me by the publisher because I am the host of a history podcast. Or I was… long story. It took me about 6 months to finish this 573 page book.

It is not a dry history book. Bennett writes with feeling and imparts excitement about the events of our great nations history. But its not your high school history book. Bennett knows there are black eyes in our Nations history and they are in display in this book too. Nothing like a Howard Zinn book, but its still there in a way.

Bennett is very patriotic and that also comes across in the writing. The book is an excellent overview of American History. A little slow in spots and if you are a history buff then not much will be new to you, but I was surprised a few times at the detail he got into certain events. Especially when he had so much to cover. I don’t believe anything was left out or missed in the tome. There two other volumes as well that get us into modern history: From a World of War to the Triumph of Freedom and From the Collapse of Communism to the Rise of Radical Islam. Really well-done overview of American history right up into WWI. This first in the series earned 4 out of 5 stars from me.

Book Review |Salt: A World History

Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky
Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky

I got what I asked for in, Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. This book is exactly what it says it is. A World History. Much of it bland and boring, but it had its moments.

I downloaded this audio book from my local library. My wife fractured her wrist and she is my usual carpool buddy. We have an hour commute each way. This book was downloaded to fill some of that time. It was on my list of books to read.

I added this book to my to read list, because salt is such an everyday mundane object/food for us, that it is often overlooked. This book embodies the difficulties of being a modern reader of history. If it is not written in an exciting way, then the book is kinda boring. Salt, has some pieces of it’s history that is fascinating, but it is not enough to make the book a page turner.

If I had been reading a paperback of this book, I would not have finished. The fact that I listened to this book on my commutes is the only thing that saved it. However, it did take me a month to listen to this 3.5 hour book.

GoodReads Ratings

My GoodReads peers disagreed with me on this book. On the whole they really liked it. 4 stars is what most people gave this book. It just wasn’t from me. I only gave this book 2 stars.

Book Review | The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra

The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra
The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra

I found The Romanov Sisters to be a little dry.  I know this is a very niche history book, I get it really.  At 381 pages it’s not that long, but it was just too much detail for me.  I did fear from the beginning that it might be a little slow for me, so I started “reading” this book via Overdrive a tool that my local library subscribes to which enables me to download an audiobook to my smartphone where I can listen to it.  I had I think 10 or 12 days to finish the audiobook.  But I just couldn’t do it.  I had to re-borrow this audiobook again after a forced period of absence.  It was on hold by other patrons, so I had to wait my turn in the queue again.

I’m glad I finished the book, but this would not be one that I keep in my personal library even if I had purchased it.  I’m glad for the free lend from the library in this case.  I gave the book 3 stars.  I was interested in the mystery of how the family was murdered, but the story was all about how they grew up and even quite a bit in the beginning about their parents.  If you have a deep interest in this family, you will probably appreciate the thoroughness of this author.  If like me you are just interested in the mystery around this family, this book will probably bore you.

Book Review | When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation

When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation
When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation

A meticulously researched book with lots of details and stories and National Book Award Nominee for Nonfiction in 2014.  When Paris Went Dark was recommended to me by a friend who is very interested in Parisian history.  Of course I was somewhat familiar with this time in history, however, I didn’t know that Paris was occupied in such a way.  This is only 4 years, but as you read the book you feel that both sides of the war, the French and the Germans were uncertain and anxious about the occupation.  Ronald weaves the story well, incorporating anecdotes and facts seamlessly.

You get a wonderful feeling of the time, while also understanding that you will never know how the people on either side of the war really felt during this time period.  Having said that Ronald gets us very close.  History buffs and lovers of Paris (who isn’t) will equally enjoy this book.  This book gets 4/5 stars.  I’m including a video from C-SPAN book TV if you would like to hear more about this book.  I can’t embed it so just use the link.

 

Review: Unreasonable Men

I was lucky enough to have Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics sent to me for free from St. Martin’s Press as part of The History Book Club, of which I am a member.  The opinions expressed below are my own.

Mike and Ben
Mike and Ben

Michael Wolraich moves you ten detailed and fascinating chapters, through the progressive politics of Theodore Roosevelt’s era.  In the story you will get to know the players like “Fighting Bob” La Follette and Teddy himself as well as a larger cast of personalities.  This well researched history takes you through a time in American politics that has been largely forgotten.

I found the book riveting and the story fun and education as my understanding of this period and the players was limited.

If you are interested in this topic I encourage you to browse through the discussion forms at History Book Club and read all the great information that club moderators put together as well as many comments from the author himself!






Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics Book Cover




Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics





Michael Wolraich





Non-Fiction, History, Biography




St. Martin's Press




July 22nd 2014




Hardcover




310




Publisher



At the turn of the twentieth century, the Republican Party stood at the brink of an internal civil war. After a devastating financial crisis, furious voters sent a new breed of politician to Washington. These young Republican firebrands, led by "Fighting Bob" La Follette of Wisconsin, vowed to overthrow the party leaders and purge Wall Street's corrupting influence from Washington. Their opponents called them "radicals," and "fanatics." They called themselves Progressives.

President Theodore Roosevelt disapproved of La Follette's confrontational methods. Fearful of splitting the party, he compromised with the conservative House Speaker, "Uncle Joe" Cannon, to pass modest reforms. But as La Follette's crusade gathered momentum, the country polarized, and the middle ground melted away. Three years after the end of his presidency, Roosevelt embraced La Follette's militant tactics and went to war against the Republican establishment, bringing him face to face with his handpicked successor, William Taft. Their epic battle shattered the Republican Party and permanently realigned the electorate, dividing the country into two camps: Progressive and Conservative.

Unreasonable Men takes us into the heart of the epic power struggle that created the progressive movement and defined modern American politics. Recounting the fateful clash between the pragmatic Roosevelt and the radical La Follette, Wolraich's riveting narrative reveals how a few Republican insurgents broke the conservative chokehold on Congress and initiated the greatest period of political change in America's history.

Placentia, a Pleasant Place

Placentia, A Pleasant Place by Virginia L. Carpentar
Placentia, A Pleasant Place by Virginia L. Carpenter

This is a story that should prove why your local library is so important.  I found a video on my twitter feed from the city of Placentia.  The video reminded me of a book that I found at the Placentia Library, Placentia, A Pleasant Place by Virginia L. Carpenter.  She literally wrote the book on Placentia.  I stubbled upon this browsing through the books in the Friends of the library section of the Placentia Library.  They were asking $20 for the book.  At first, I thought this was a little steep, but being new to the city, I wanted to lear about the history of it.  After all I am a history buff.

I was wondering a little more about Virginia today as well.  I’m not finding much about her except links to her book, now selling for $95 most places!  I did find a little on the Placentia Library website.  She was hired as a librarian there in August 1953.  In April 1978, she helped dedicate the California room in the library where she signed copies of her book.  I have the revised edition pictured above that was published in 1988.

I also found some 1984 minutes from the city where the then major Richard Buck presented a proclamation that July 17, 1984 be Virginia Carpenter Day in Placentia.

Finally, I tweeted to the Placentia Library to find out more.  They have reached out but only to schedule time in the history room.  I’m a little disappointed in that, because I just wanted a simple answer.  Hopefully, I’ll learn more when I have time to schedule time with them.